This is going to be my last rant about Royal Mail for this year – and that's a promise. It's about the company's inability to respond to questions and suggestions this time.
Some background information necessary to appreciate the issue
When Royal Mail introduced an opt-out service for its Neighbours Not Trusted scheme in 2012 the company didn't use its opt-out service for junk mail as a template. If you don't want items to be delivered to a neighbour you can simply complete an online form, and Royal Mail then sends you a sticker for your letter box. As soon as you display the sticker you're opted out, and if you want to opt back in again you only have to remove the sticker. Simples – unlike the Door-to-Door Opt-Out.
At the time I noted that the scheme is a lot less bureaucratic than the Door-to-Door Opt-Out, and I quickly designed a 'No Unaddressed Mail' sticker for the Royal Mail. I was merely poking fun at them and didn't for one moment consider suggesting the idea to them. I mean, Royal Mail has made its opt-out scheme for junk mail complicated for a reason – if they wanted the service to be easy and effective they would have set things up properly by now. And it's not like nobody has ever told them the opt-out service is crap!
What happens when you talk with Royal Mail
Now, in August someone suggested on the forum to design an I'm opted out sticker. After thinking about how such a sticker might improve the opt-out scheme the person fired off a politely worded e-mail to Royal Mail:
I would like to make a suggestion for your opt-out service.
In my experience the opt-out works reasonably well. However, I do find that every couple of weeks some unaddressed mail items slip through the net. This happens more frequently in the run-up to Christmas, presumably because there are more staff changes during this period. As I understand it postmen have to remember which households on their round are opted out, and I appreciate that it is easy to forget that an address is registered with your service.
My suggestion is to give households that ask to be opted out a letter explaining how the opt-out service works and a small 'no unaddressed mail' sticker. The opt-out service would then work very much like your 'delivery to neighbour' opt-out. As I understand it, households that opt out of the 'delivery to neighbour' service can do so via your website, and they are then sent a letter with information about opting out and a sticker that reminds the postmen not to leave undeliverable items with a neighbour.
I believe my suggestion would have a number of advantages. For households with an internet connection it would be easier to register with your service. A problem I faced when I registered was that I couldn't print the opt-out form I received via e-mail (I don't have a printer). I had to ask for a form to be sent to my address, which I then had to return to your office. This process took more than a week.
It would also mean that households no longer have to re-register with your service every couple of years. As with the 'delivery to neighbour' opt-out household could opt out by putting the sticker on their letterbox, and they could opt in again by removing the sticker.
Perhaps most importantly, the sticker would be a visual reminder for postmen. They would no longer have to remember which households are opted out.
Royal Mail's response was a standard Thank-you-now-go-away e-mail:
Thank you for your recent email regarding the Door 2 Door [sic] opt out [sic] service.
I am sorry to read you have experienced some issues with items of unaddressed mail being delivered to your address, whilst your opt out [sic] was active. I hope you will accept my apologies for any inconvenience this has caused you.
The manager of your local Delivery Office has been advised of situation, and will ensure that the relevant staff are interviewed regarding this failure. They will also reiterate the importance of the following the opt out [sic] process to the delivery staff assigned to deliveries to your address.
I have read with interest your comments and suggestions on amending the Door to Door service. We have no imminent plans to amend the service as it currently stands, however, we appreciate your comments and suggestions. All Royal Mail services are reviewed periodically to ensure that we are offering customers the best service possible, and your comments have been recorded so they are available for the next review.
With regard to the set up process, we have a requirement to have received a completed and signed application from a customer before we can process an opt out [sic] request. Customers can request an application form via email, on the Royal Mail website or via our Customer Services helpline. As noted in our documentation, the setup [sic] process can take up to six weeks to complete. This is the maximum time allowed and most applications are processed in a shorter period of time.
If you've been in the business of stopping junk mail for a while you'll have spotted that there's nothing substantial in the response. All five paragraphs are copied and pasted from templates. Not only that, after reading the response I started wondering if Royal Mail even bothers contacting a local office when opt-out registrations are ignored. The person who had sent the original e-mail had, quite explicitly, not made a complaint about
the odd item slipping through the net and, more importantly, he hadn't provided his address. In other words, the paragraph which stated that
the manager of your local delivery office has been advised of the situation is completely irrelevant, and the person who did the copying and pasting failed to notice that he wouldn't have been able to contact the sender's local office (had he be inclined to do so).
We decided not to let Royal Mail off the hook too easily. The person replied by asking when the next review is due to take place and how Royal Mail had been able to contact his local office without knowing his address. Royal Mail responded with another copy-and-paste e-mail:
Thank you for contacting Royal Mail.
We appreciate you [sic] recommendations for how the Door To Door service should operate. I am also sorry for the response you had previously received.
We do utilise this approach for the ‘Deliver To Neighbour’ opt out [sic] but the Door To Door service operates in a different way for processing reasons.
All customers who opt out of Door To Door are entered onto our opt out [sic] database for two years after which time an opt out [sic] renewal is required. After a customer has been entered onto our database a notice is put on your address frame within the delivery office so the post officer who is covering a particular walk is aware of which addresses are opted out [sic]. This process has been in place for some time and there are no plans to review it.
Royal Mail delivers around 25% of unaddressed mail items in the UK. Therefore opting out of Royal Mail Door to Door deliveries will not eliminate the majority of items that you currently receive through your letterbox, as there are many other companies who deliver leaflets to whom this opt out [sic] will not apply.
I hope you find this information useful; if we can be of any more help, please don’t hesitate to get back in touch.
It's like talking to a brick wall. No answer to the question how they were able to contact the local office without knowing which address to contact, and now Royal Mail suddenly states that there are no plans to review how its junk mail opt-out operates (the previous e-mail stated that the service was reviewed periodically). Also note that the e-mail comments on the suggestion for an 'no unaddressed mail' sticker by explaining how the scheme currently operates. We already know how the scheme operates – that's why we suggested an improvement!
I appreciate that the Door-to-Door Opt-Out is Royal Mail's toy. It's a private company running a private opt-out service – they decide the rules. But really, this is no way to respond to a suggestion for how the service could be improved. In a strange way, what makes me pissed off about responses like these is that even the copy-and-paste exercise is incompetent. It would have been easy enough for them to come up with a proper excuse – they could have said that producing a sticker would be too expensive, for instance. But then that would open the door for a two-way conversation, and that's precisely what Royal Mail wants to avoid.
Don't talk with your customers!